Ready or not, here it comes:*
- There were two instances last weekend where defensive players were flagged for alleged illegal hits on quarterbacks. Dean Blandino, the NFL's head of officiating already has said that Ed Hochuli's call on 49ers linebacker Nick Moody was incorrect, and the one by Jason Worilds that was flagged by referee Clete Blakeman was too ticky-tacky to call.
- Clear infractions deserve to be penalized, but officials are becoming too quick to flag any big hit, and it's in danger of impacting the outcome of the game. Hochuli's mistake came on a third down where Russell Wilson threw incomplete and would have set up a field goal attempt in a game Seattle was winning, 10-7. After the gift first down at the San Francisco 7-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks scored a touchdown and their 17-7 victory eliminated the 49ers from the playoffs.
- A better protocol would be to err on the side of not throwing a flag unless the violation is obvious, and then let the league office handle the behavior modification via fines. Punish the individual, but don't alter the outcome of a game with what turns out to be an incorrect call on the field.
- That sack of Matt Ryan, had it counted, would have given Worilds the team lead with 5.5, but as it stands it seems unlikely he'll even match the eight sacks he posted in 2013. The issue of whether the Steelers have been using him as a rusher this year as much as last year has been raised in the media, likely because Worilds is operating on the one-year transition tender he signed during the offseason. But understand the Steelers don't necessarily gauge a player's value to them strictly on the basis of individual statistics.
- An example is Lawrence Timmons, who signed a reported six-year, $50 million contract in August 2011. In the three full seasons since signing that contract, Timmons has a total of 11 sacks and six interceptions, and he has two sacks and no interceptions so far in 2014. But there is more to a player's value than statistics, and Timmons has flipped between the mack and buck positions for the good of the team.
- As it was explained by Mike Tomlin, "He's a veteran guy, so we expect him to contribute in that way. From time to time we're going to try to make things as simple as we can for the young players because they have enough of an issue just digesting information and game-plan specific information and playing with the type of detail that's required for them to be successful. We'll heap other added responsibilities on veteran guys, and I appreciate their willingness to embrace it."
- When contract time rolls around in 2015, Jason Worilds won't be judged by the Steelers on sack totals alone.
- Besides Timmons, another of the players whose contributions fall into the multi-layered category is William Gay, who now holds the franchise's single-season record for interceptions returned for touchdowns. Like Timmons, Gay has changed positions to facilitate the insertion of a young player into the lineup, and also when injuries have hit the secondary. "Will is just a silent, steady contributor," said Tomlin.
- William Gay also has been selected as the Steelers' nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, and these 32 players were identified because they "represent the best of the NFL's commitment to philanthropy and community impact." Three of the nominees will be named finalists for the award, and the winner will be announced in Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLIX, on the night before the game.
- Go to Google, and type in "William Gay shelter for abused women" and read some of the stories that appear. He was donating his time to the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh long before anyone had heard of Janay Rice, and in October he teamed with the shelter to create "RUSafe," a free app designed to give users a brief questionnaire and uses GPS technology to help the user locate the nearest domestic violence hotline or 911.
- Domestic violence is a serious problem, and Gay is serious about it. I guess we're going to find out how serious the people who select the winner, a panel that includes Commissioner Roger Goodell, are about it, too.
- Age is an issue for these Steelers, but not in the way it was in recent seasons. Instead of contending for the league lead in the number of thirtysomethings on the roster, the Steelers have flipped things around in a significant way. Going into the game vs. the Chiefs, there were only seven guys older than 30 with significant roles on offense or defense, and that doesn't include the placekicker and long-snapper because age isn't as much of a negative there as at other positions.
- The seven: Ben Roethlisberger, Lance Moore, Heath Miller, and Matt Spaeth on offense; James Harrison, Ike Taylor, and Troy Polamalu on defense. Brett Keisel, an eighth, is on injured reserve.
- Here are some other significant players' ages: Le'Veon Bell is 22; Martavis Bryant is 23; Markus Wheaton is 23; Antonio Brown is 26; Maurkice Pouncey is 25; David DeCastro is 24; Kelvin Beachum is 25; Mike Adams is 24; Cam Heyward is 25; Stephon Tuitt is 21 and won't be 22 until next May; Ryan Shazier is 22; Sean Spence is 24; Vince Williams is 24; Jarvis Jones is 25; Shamarko Thomas is 23; and Antwon Blake is 24.
- The Steelers defense is in desperate need of playmakers, especially if the team hopes to make the playoffs and advance once the tournament begins, and Shazier is an untapped resource. But that's the case because a series of nagging injuries removed him from the equation. Between Sept. 21 and Nov. 30, Shazier was able to play in only one complete game.
- When asked what Shazier might do during the week to get himself on the field for more than the four defensive snaps he played in Atlanta, Tomlin said, "Detail, detail, detail. It's more about that for a young guy than the physicality of it anyway."
- To Shazier, that was a message, message, message.